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Garden Expert : Spring Check List

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Garden Expert : Spring Check List

Ensure a bountiful garden this summer with Mark’s step-by-step guide in early spring

It’s time to get growing. As you contemplate your options in the yard, allow me to help you get organized. It is always more effective to approach a project with a plan.


It might surprise you that this is an excellent time of year to start a vegetable garden. Don’t wait until the May 24th weekend to get started. By then you will have missed the best time to sow many of your favourite crops including: peas, carrots, onions, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and garlic (though fall is better for garlic).

With cool April temperatures, this is a great time of year to prepare the soil of your garden by spreading three to four centimetres of Bio Max manure (or reliably high quality compost). You can turn this under the soil or plant right in it.


Sow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, leeks, zinnias, asters and the like now. With five to six weeks until our last frost date, your timing will be perfect. Come late May/ early June, you will be ready to plant in warm soil and your transplants will take off.

Use a quality seed starting mix (I use 10 parts Pro Mix with one-part worm castings. Magic!) All seedlings need plenty of light to grow properly: sunlight or fluorescent lights work best.

Lawn Care

My recipe for the best lawn on the block:

  • Rake lightly with a fan rake to remove winter debris.
  • Fertilize with a quality lawn food. One that contains slow-release nitrogen and chelated iron. The nitrogen for a long-lasting green colour and the iron for the deepest possible green. I use Golfgreen Iron Plus on my lawn.
  • Where weeds occur or thin spots exist, spread lawn soil four centimetres thick and rake smooth. Broadcast quality, Canadian grass seed at the rate of one kg per 100 square metres. Rake this smooth (again), step on it with flat-soled shoes and water until germination. Keep reasonably well watered until new roots are established (about four to six weeks).
  • When you are ready to cut your lawn, set your mower at six to eight centimetres high. Any lower allows weeds to establish and weakens your lawn. Use a mulching mower.


All of the winter-hardy stock that you find at garden retailers this time of year can be planted in the garden, unless it has already flushed new, soft growth: an indication that it was forced in a greenhouse and is now frost-tender. All woody plants that are dormant at the time you purchase them are ready to plant this weekend.


This is a great time of year to dig up perennials and divide them into sections to replant around your yard or give away to friends and neighbours. Hosta, monarda, daylilies: you name it.


Whatever you plant, be sure you prepare the soil well before you place your newly acquired plants in the ground. Ninety per cent of your success depends on it. If you are making a new garden in clay-based soil (common in southern Ontario) be sure to remove existing soil 30 to 40 centimetres deep. Replace it with triple mix, mounded 10 cm higher than the current grade, as the new soil will settle. If you are planting in an existing bed, add four to five centimetres of new, quality soil and either turn it under or let earthworms do it for you.

Look for composted manure that is certified by the Composting Quality Alliance. I spread four centimetres of well-composted manure over my entire garden each spring. I also use worm castings whenever I plant: one part to 10 parts soil. Earthworm castings are nitrogen-rich and teaming with a concentration of nutrients and mycorrhiza. I can see the difference in plant performance when I use worm castings.


And finally, after you have returned your garden furniture to its summertime place, be sure to sit on it. Enjoy the bird song (put out feeders and nesting boxes), the wind and the sunshine. It has been a snowy, cold winter and you have earned a break from the indoors.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster and Order of Canada recipient. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook. markcullen.com


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